Scholars affirm small mercury levels affect fetuses.
A group of researchers at a five-day international conference in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan, affirmed Wednesday that small amounts of mercury over the long term have an effect on unborn babies.
The findings at the Sixth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP) were based on the group's study of residents in the Faeroe Islands, a self-governing region of Denmark in the North Atlantic. The residents are said to eat whale meat as a staple, which is known to accumulate high mercury levels.
Debate continues over the impact of mercury on fetuses, as a U.S. group, which studied residents of the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, is countering this claim. The U.S. group is set to announce its findings on Thursday.
In Wednesday's session, the group including Philippe Grandjean, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark, reported about possible language deficiencies, among other things, in children who are born to mothers with mercury levels of 3-10 parts per million (ppm) in their hair.
Another researcher from the group noted the possibility of a similar scenario in other areas where residents eat whale meat, and called for government measures to regulate the eating of whales, citing cases in which mercury levels in the hair dropped from the average 3.6 to 2.6 ppm with the decrease in intake of whale meat.
The ICMGP, which is being attended by about 500 researchers from more than 40 countries, is the world's largest scientific conference on mercury and has been held every two years since 1990, when it began in Sweden.
This is the first time the conference has been held in Asia. Minamata is where a notorious case of mercury poisoning broke out in the 1950s and 1960s.